The question was recently posed to me – what are the Top 10 Beers of Summer? And an additional qualifier was added to the question – that were available for sale here in Northwest Indiana. Feeling uniquely qualified to speak on the matter, my response was simple: Game on.
What makes a good summer beer? As I thought about it, a few commonalities kept popping up in as I considered which beers I considered summer-ready. First off – generally lower alcohol content. With higher temps and increasing humidity in the summer months, higher ABV beers can be too filling. This is because these beers have higher sugar content, and thus more calories, and within this simplistic analysis, give you that “too filling” sensation.
But in hand with this is that the beer still needs to taste good. Doh!, you say? Yes, I agree – but it’s not an easy thing to accomplish. Have you ever tried a non-alcoholic or “near” beer? Not good. Too me, brewing a tasty beer with lower alcohol is the mark of a quality brewery. In fact, whenever I visit a new brewery, my first pint will be of their pale ale. My thinking is that if the brewer can make a nice APA, then chances are the rest of the beer choices will be good, too.
And the last consideration is portability. I’m not sure about you, but for me, the summer months are go-go-go. Go to the beach, go to the barbeque, go to the music fest - go-go-go. And when you’re on the run, being able to grab-and-go is a must. With this restriction, many of the fine locally brewed craft beers weren’t considered summer-worthy, as they either aren’t distributed, or are available only in growler fills. (And I like growlers, but lugging a 64-ounce glass jug around is not within my definition of portable.) I also prefer cans over bottles, because they are easier to cool, won’t break if you drop one poolside, and are lighter to carry back with you from wherever you are for disposal. Footprints, people – only leave footprints.
Before I dive in to the list, a couple of other comments. No, Corona didn’t make the list. I have to admit, the promo shots look enticing – a sandy beach, your feet up, and beautiful people all around, and a sweating bottle of Corona in an ice-packed cooler, just waiting for that lime wedge. But, no. Just no. It’s not a craft beer – so no soup for you!
And the same goes for Old Style, or whatever beer you enjoy at whatever baseball park you watch games at. For me, as a Cubs fan, having an Old Style in the grandstand is baseball – and baseball is our game. Throw in a hot dog, and some peanuts? I’m in. But, for purposes of this list – those beers are out, nostalgia aside.
With that, let’s jump in to the list.
1. Oberon – Bells Brewing – 5.8% ABV. Oberon is a harbinger of summer – it appears on store shelves in late spring, lasts until the end of summer, and then poof! It’s gone. A wheat ale brewed with wheat malt, this beer is not overly hopped, but has a spicy hop finish with mildly fruity aromas.
2. Gumballhead – Three Floyds Brewing – 5.6% ABV. Full disclosure – this is one of my all time favorite beers. A hybrid beer, Gumballhead is a wheat beer, but with a hopped-up finish delivered by Amarillo hops. I tend to overlook this beer these days, because it is ubiquitous. But, for the summer months, this beer is a killer. Downside – bottles only, but I can live with that.
3. Sun Crusher – Revolution Brewing – 5.3% ABV. Rumored to be a first cousin to Gumballhead because Revolution’s head brewer once brewed there, this beer is a similar in that it is an American wheat ale, but with different hop additions. The result is a crisp and clear beer made for summer – advantage here over Gumballhead is that Sun Crusher comes in cans.
4. Daisy Cutter – Half Acre Brewing – 5.2% ABV. Okay, I’m bending the rules here a bit, because Daisy Cutter isn’t technically available in Northwest Indiana, but you can get it just across the border in Illinois. Trust me, this beer is worth the extra effort. Remember what I said about a well-made APA? This is it – checking in at only 5.2%, this beer smells of citrus and pine, and has a nice hoppy back end.
5. Helles Lager – New Oberpfalz Brewing – 5.0% ABV. The flagship house beer at New Oberpfalz, this lager is brewed with German malt and whole-cone hops. Don’t expect a hoppy finish on this one – it’s all about the malt, which gives the beer a bready nose and a smooth finish. Prost! Available in bomber bottles only, though.
6. Hefe-weizen – Paulener Brauerei – 5.5% ABV. This import is widely considered to be the bell cow for this style – a true hefeweizen or wheat ale. You can argue that I should have eliminated this from consideration, because it’s not a craft beer, but I felt compelled to include a true hefe in the list. And hey, it’s my list, my rules. Pouring with a natural haze and a strong head of foam, this beer has a mild aroma of bananas. There are some local houses brewing the style, but it is generally not widely available.
7. All Day IPA – Founders Brewing – 4.7% ABV. A so-called “session” IPA, All Day was designed for hop heads and a hot summer day. With enough hops to have a bite, and a nice malt backbone, this beer defines the phrase “crushable”. Not a beer I recommend for hearty foods and sauces, but for sitting on deck by the pool, this canned beer is nigh on perfect.
8. Grapefruit Radler – Stieglbrauerei zu Salzburg – 2.5% ABV. Yes, you read that correctly. An import from Austria, Radler is a fruit beer designed to be potable and portable. Radler means cyclist in German, and this beer was brewed with them in mind. Tart, effervescent with a citrusy aroma, this beer isn’t for everyone, but if you are a fan of fruit beers, then here’s a beer for you. Yes, not technically a craft beer – see #6 above.
9. Blackberry Gose – Sour Note Brewing – 4.0% ABV. Brewed by 18th Street’s sister brewery Sour Note, this gose style is in a word – tart. But that’s what you look for in a gose, so fans of the style will like this beer. Now available in six pack cans, this beer hits all the right notes. Also brewed with other fruit flavors including grapefruit, peach, and cherry, my better half gives this beer an affirmative Thumbs Up! And that’s all you need to know about this beer – she knows her stuff.
10. Lizard King – Pipeworks Brewing – 6.5% ABV. Tipping the scales at 6.5% alcohol, this beer is at the upper end of the range for summer, but has a bit more hop presence for you hop heads out there. Solid malt bill, and a mosaic-hopped back end, but with a crisp and refreshing finish. Yes – you’ll have to trek to Illinois for this one, but you can handle it. Also, this IPA comes in cans, so it’s perfect for the cooler.
There you have it, my top 10 beers of summer. Now the countdown is on….5….4….3….2….1 – Go!